Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Genre: Fairy Tale
Hans Christian Andersen.
Hans Christian Andersen. (credit: The Bettmann Archive)
(born April 2, 1805, Odense, near Copenhagen, Den. — died Aug. 4, 1875, Copenhagen) Danish writer of fairy tales. Though reared in poverty, he received a university education. In his many collections of tales, published 1835 – 72, he broke with literary tradition and employed the idioms and constructions of spoken language. His stories are imaginative combinations of universal elements from folk legend and include such favourites as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes." While some reveal an optimistic belief in the ultimate triumph of goodness and beauty (e.g., "The Snow Queen"), others are deeply pessimistic. Part of what makes his tales compelling is the way they identify with the unfortunate and outcast. He also wrote plays, novels, poems, travel books, and several autobiographies.
The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) enjoyed fame in his own lifetime as a novelist,dramatist, and poet, but his fairy tales are his great contribution to world literature.
Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark. His father was a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman, and he was the first Danish author to emerge from the lowest class. At the age of 14, Andersen convinced his mother to let him try his luck in Copenhagen rather than be apprenticed to a tailor. When she asked what he intended to do there, he replied, "I'II become famous! First you suffer cruelly, and then you become famous."
For 3 years he lived in one of Copenhagen's disreputable districts. He tried to become a singer, dancer, and actor but failed. When he was 17, a prominent government official arranged a scholarship for Andersen in order to repair his spotty education. But he was an indifferent student and was unable to study systematically. He never learned to spell or to write the elegant Danish of the period. Thus his literary style remained close to the spoken language and is still fresh and living today, unlike that of most of his contemporaries.
After spending 7 years at school, mostly under the supervision of a neurotic rector who seems to have hated him, Andersen celebrated the passing of his university examinations in 1828 by writing his first prose narrative, an unrestrained satirical fantasy. This, his first success, was quickly followed by a vaudeville and a collection of poems. Andersen's career as an author was begun, and his years of suffering were at an end.
A lifelong bachelor, he was frequently in love (with, among others, the singer Jenny Lind). He lived most of his life as a guest on the country estates of wealthy Danes. He made numerous journeys abroad, where he met and in many cases became friends with prominent Europeans, among them the English novelist Charles Dickens. Andersen died on Aug. 4, 1875.
In 1835 Andersen completed his first novel, The Improvisatore, and published his first small volume of fairy tales, an event that went virtually unnoticed. The Improvisatore has a finely done Italian setting and, like most of Andersen's novels, was based on his own life. It was a success not only in Denmark but also in England and Germany. He wrote five more novels, all of them combining highly artificial plots with remarkably vivid descriptions of landscape and local customs.
As a dramatist, Andersen failed almost absolutely. But many of his poems are still a part of living Danish literature, and his most enduring contributions, after the fairy tales, are his travel books and his autobiography. In vividness, spontaneity, and impressionistic insight into character and scene, the travel books (of which A Poet's Bazaar is the masterpiece) rival the tales, and the kernels of many of the tales are found there.
World fame came to Andersen early. In 1846 the publication of his collected works in German gave him the opportunity to write an autobiography (published in both German and English in 1847). This book formed the basis of the Danish version, The Fairy Tale of My Life (1855).
Andersen began his fairy-tale writing by retelling folk tales he had heard as a child. Very soon, however, he began to create original stories, and the vast majority of his tales are original. The first volumes in 1835-1837 contained 19 tales and were called Fairy Tales Told for Children. In 1845 the title changed to New Fairy Tales. The four volumes appearing with this title contained 22 original tales and mark the great flowering of Andersen's genius. In 1852 the title was changed to Stories, and from then on the volumes were called New Fairy Tales and Stories. During the next years Andersen published a number of volumes of fairy tales, and his last works of this type appeared in 1872. Among his most popular tales are "The Ugly Duckling," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Little Mermaid."
At first Andersen dismissed his fairy-tale writing as a "bagatelle" and, encouraged by friends and prominent Danish critics, considered abandoning the genre. But he later came to believe that the fairy tale would be the "universal poetry" of which so many romantic writers dreamed, the poetic form of the future, which would synthesize folk art and literature and encompass the tragic and the comic, the naive and the ironic.
While the majority of Andersen's tales can be enjoyed by children, the best of them are written for adults as well and lend themselves to varying interpretations according to the sophistication of the reader. To the Danes this is the most important aspect of the tales, but it is unfortunately not often conveyed by Andersen's translators. Indeed, some of the finest and richest tales, such as "She Was No Good," "The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream," "The Shadow," "The Wind Tells of Valdemar Daae and His Daughter," and "The Bell," do not often find their way into English-language collections. More insidious, though, are the existing translations that omit entirely Andersen's wit and neglect those stylistic devices that carry his multiplicity of meanings. Andersen's collected tales form a rich fictive world, remarkably coherent and capable of many interpretations, as only the work of a great poet can be.
The only complete collection of Andersen's tales in English is the translation by Jean Hersholt, The Complete Andersen: All of the 168 Stories (6 vols., 1949). His novels and travel books have all been translated but not in this century. Still one of the best sources of information about Andersen's life is his autobiography, The Fairy Tale of My Life, in a translation by W. Glyn Jones (1954). Excellent biographies are Fredrik Böök, Hans Christian Andersen (1938; trans. 1962), and Monica Stirling, The Wild Swan: The Life and Times of Hans Christian Andersen (1965). A good introduction to Andersen's method is Paul V. Rubow's essay, "Idea and Form in Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales," in Svend Dahl and H.G. Topsöe-Jensen, eds., A Book on the Danish Writer Hans Christian Andersen: His Life and Work (trans. 1955).
More about the Author
A Danish shoemaker's son who as a child had heard traditional storytelling ‘in the spinning-room or during the hop harvest’. He began writing fairytales in 1835, and continued all his life; the first English translations appeared in 1846. Some, for instance ‘The Travelling Companions’ and ‘Big Claus and Little Claus’, follow traditional plots quite closely; others are variations on old motifs, such as ‘The Little Mermaid’, elaborating the belief that water-spirits may love humans, and may desire to obtain salvation. Many, including the well-known ‘Ugly Duckling’, are entirely his own creations; almost all are full of pathos and emotionalism. Andersen's influence on the later literary fairytale in England was profound; it pervades the fairytales of Oscar Wilde, and can be felt as early as 1857 in several passages of Dickens's Little Dorrit. About a dozen are now among the stock of fairytales which most English children know, and are no longer felt as foreign.
There are several ways in which Andersen may be said to have created the genre of modern fairy tale. First, he gave the fairy tale a personal touch. His very first fairy tale, ‘The Tinder Box’, opens in a matter‐of‐fact way, instead of the traditional ‘Once upon a time’, and its characters, including the king, speak a colloquial, everyday language. This feature became the trademark of Andersen's style. Quite a number of his early fairy tales are retellings of traditional folk tales, such as ‘Little Claus and Big Claus’, ‘The Princess and the Pea’, ‘The Travelling Companion’, ‘The Swineherd’, ‘The Wild Swans’; however, in Andersen's rendering they acquire an unmistakable individuality and brilliant irony. Kings go around in battered slippers and personally open gates of their kingdoms; princesses read newspapers and roast chicken; and many supernatural creatures in later tales behave and talk like ordinary people. An explicit narrative voice, commenting on the events and addressing the listener, is another characteristic trait of Andersen's tales. It is not accidental that many fairy tales were told by Andersen to real children before he wrote them down. However, there are no conventional morals in them, possibly with the exception of ‘The Red Shoes’.
Secondly, Andersen brought the fairy tale into the everyday. His first original fairy tale, ‘Little Ida's Flowers’, recalls the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann in its elaborate combination of the ordinary and the fantastic, its nocturnal magical transformations, and its use of the child as a narrative lens. Still closer to Hoffmann is ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ with its animation of the realm of toys. However, in both tales Andersen's melancholic view of life is revealed: both end tragically, thus raising the question whether children's literature must depend on happy endings. These may be counterbalanced by more conventional stories of trials and reward, such as ‘Thumbelina’ or ‘The Snow Queen’, the latter based on the popular Norse legend of the Ice Maiden.
In a group of fairy tales, Andersen went still further in animating the material world around him and introducing everyday objects as protagonists: ‘The Sweethearts’ (also known as ‘The Top and the Ball’), ‘The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep’, ‘The Shirt Collar’, ‘The Darning‐Needle’; he is credited with being a pioneer in this respect. Also, flowers and plants are ascribed a rich spiritual life, as in ‘The Daisy’, or arrogance, as in ‘The Fir Tree’, or otherwise are depicted as having a limited petty bourgeois horizon, as in ‘Five Peas from One Pod’.
Andersen's animal tales are also radically different from traditional fables. While in ‘The Storks’ he makes an original interpretation of the popular saying that babies are brought by storks, in several stories (‘The Happy Family’, ‘The Sprinters’, ‘The Dung‐Beetle’) Andersen makes animals represent different perspectives on life, and the stories themselves are more like satirical sketches of human manners than fairy tales for children. ‘The Ugly Duckling’, probably one of Andersen's best‐known stories, is a camouflaged autobiography, echoing the writer's much‐quoted statement: ‘First you must endure a lot, then you get famous.’ The animals, including the protagonist, possess human traits, views, and emotions, making the story indeed a poignant account of the road from humiliation through sufferings to well‐deserved bliss. The message is, however, ambivalent: you have to be born a swan in order to become one.
Another programmatic fairy tale is ‘The Little Mermaid’, based on a medieval ballad, eagerly exploited by romantic poets. Andersen, however, reversed the roles and, toning down the ballad's motif of the Christian versus the pagan, created a beautiful and tragic story of impossible love, which certainly also reflected his personal experience.
While most of Andersen's fairy tales are firmly anchored in his home country and often mention concrete topographical details, like the Round Tower in Copenhagen, some fairy tales have exotic settings, like China in ‘The Nightingale’, or unspecified ‘Southern countries’ in ‘The Shadow’. This tale, based loosely on a story by Adelbert von Chamisso, which it also mentions indirectly, is probably the most enigmatic and disturbing of his tales. Published in 1847, it marked a general change in Andersen tales, from being addressed to children to a wider audience, even primarily adults. In fact, his late tales, which he himself characterized as ‘Stories’ rather than ‘Fairy Tales’, are much less known and almost never published in contemporary collections for children. Among them is Andersen's tribute to modern technology, ‘The Great Sea‐Serpent’, depicting the first transatlantic telegraph cable.
The significance of Andersen may be illustrated by the fact that the world's most prestigious prize in children's literature, the Andersen Medal, is named after him, and that his birthday, 2 April, is celebrated as the International Children's Book Day.
Born in a slum and struggling through his youth to break through Denmark's class structure, Hans Christian Andersen always considered himself an outsider. And so his plays, novels, and especially his fairy tales are populated by outsiders, some of whom do not live happily ever after. The young Andersen initially hoped to rise from his impoverishment as an actor, but a theater director instead raised money to send him to school. In 1829, he gained his first success not as an actor but as a writer, with "A Walk From Holmen's Canal to the East Point of the Island of Amager in the Years 1828 and 1829." Despite its unwieldy travelogue title, this was a tale of fantasy inspired by the work of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Still attached to the theater, Andersen went on to write several plays, few of which were particularly successful. He made his name more as a novelist, with such works as The Improviser (1835) and Only a Fiddler (1837). It was during this early phase of novel writing that Andersen also began turning out original little tales in folk style. The first of what would amount to 156 stories was published in 1835 as Eventyr, or Tales Told for Children. Eventyr was expanded in 1837 and a second volume came out in 1842. Related collections of stories were regularly issued through 1852, with a last publication, New Fairy Tales and Stories, finally arriving in 1872. One key to Andersen's popularity was his style, which was colloquial rather than literary. Yet he refused to write down to children; he introduced dark feelings and sinister turns of events and expressed special sympathy for outcasts, not just heroes and princesses. Some of his tales celebrated the triumph of goodness and were, indeed, overtly Christian, but others were pessimistic in the tradition of German Romanticism. Andersen was also a poet, and his verse has been set to music by such composers as Grieg, Nielsen, and Schumann (notably Der Spielmann). But his fairy tales have made the strongest impression on composers. Among musical adaptations, sometimes quite loose, of Andersen's tales are Prokofiev's song The Ugly Duckling, Mary Rodgers' musical Once Upon a Mattress (based on "The Princess and the Pea"), and Disney's animated feature The Little Mermaid. ~ James Reel, All Music Guide
The Angel by Hans Christian Andersen.
"W HENEVER a good child dies, an angel of God comes down from heaven, takes the dead child in his arms, spreads out his great white wings, and flies with him over all the places which the child had loved during his life. Then he gathers a large handful of flowers, which he carries up to the Almighty, that they may bloom more brightly in heaven than they do on earth. And the Almighty presses the flowers to His heart, but He kisses the flower that pleases Him best, and it receives a voice, and is able to join the song of the chorus of bliss."
These words were spoken by an angel of God, as he carried a dead child up to heaven, and the child listened as if in a dream. Then they passed over well-known spots, where the little one had often played, and through beautiful gardens full of lovely flowers.
"Which of these shall we take with us to heaven to be transplanted there?" asked the angel.
Close by grew a slender, beautiful, rose-bush, but some wicked hand had broken the stem, and the half-opened rosebuds hung faded and withered on the trailing branches.
"Poor rose-bush!" said the child, "let us take it with us to heaven, that it may bloom above in God`s garden."
The angel took up the rose-bush; then he kissed the child, and the little one half opened his eyes. The angel gathered also some beautiful flowers, as well as a few humble buttercups and heart`s-ease.
"Now we have flowers enough," said the child; but the angel only nodded, he did not fly upward to heaven.
It was night, and quite still in the great town. Here they remained, and the angel hovered over a small, narrow street, in which lay a large heap of straw, ashes, and sweepings from the houses of people who had removed. There lay fragments of plates, pieces of plaster, rags, old hats, and other rubbish not pleasant to see. Amidst all this confusion, the angel pointed to the pieces of a broken flower-pot, and to a lump of earth which had fallen out of it. The earth had been kept from falling to pieces by the roots of a withered field-flower, which had been thrown amongst the rubbish.
"We will take this with us," said the angel, "I will tell you why as we fly along."
And as they flew the angel related the history.
"Down in that narrow lane, in a low cellar, lived a poor sick boy; he had been afflicted from his childhood, and even in his best days he could just manage to walk up and down the room on crutches once or twice, but no more. During some days in summer, the sunbeams would lie on the floor of the cellar for about half an hour. In this spot the poor sick boy would sit warming himself in the sunshine, and watching the red blood through his delicate fingers as he held them before his face. Then he would say he had been out, yet he knew nothing of the green forest in its spring verdure, till a neighbor`s son brought him a green bough from a beech-tree. This he would place over his head, and fancy that he was in the beech-wood while the sun shone, and the birds carolled gayly. One spring day the neighbor`s boy brought him some field-flowers, and among them was one to which the root still adhered. This he carefully planted in a flower-pot, and placed in a window-seat near his bed. And the flower had been planted by a fortunate hand, for it grew, put forth fresh shoots, and blossomed every year. It became a splendid flower-garden to the sick boy, and his little treasure upon earth. He watered it, and cherished it, and took care it should have the benefit of every sunbeam that found its way into the cellar, from the earliest morning ray to the evening sunset. The flower entwined itself even in his dreams- for him it bloomed, for him spread its perfume. And it gladdened his eyes, and to the flower he turned, even in death, when the Lord called him. He has been one year with God. During that time the flower has stood in the window, withered and forgotten, till at length cast out among the sweepings into the street, on the day of the lodgers` removal. And this poor flower, withered and faded as it is, we have added to our nosegay, because it gave more real joy than the most beautiful flower in the garden of a queen."
"But how do you know all this?" asked the child whom the angel was carrying to heaven.
"I know it," said the angel, "because I myself was the poor sick boy who walked upon crutches, and I know my own flower well."
Then the child opened his eyes and looked into the glorious happy face of the angel, and at the same moment they found themselves in that heavenly home where all is happiness and joy. And God pressed the dead child to His heart, and wings were given him so that he could fly with the angel, hand in hand. Then the Almighty pressed all the flowers to His heart; but He kissed the withered field-flower, and it received a voice. Then it joined in the song of the angels, who surrounded the throne, some near, and others in a distant circle, but all equally happy. They all joined in the chorus of praise, both great and small,- the good, happy child, and the poor field-flower, that once lay withered and cast away on a heap of rubbish in a narrow, dark street.
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